“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” ~Maya Angelou
Robert’s and my soul-enriching spring trip to Kansas City, MO, to visit my folks commenced this past week. Not only did we engage in luxurious, drawn-out conversations that revived old memories, but we also updated our emotional and intellectual data banks with current happenings, hopes and dreams. Here is a picture of my dad and mom: Merle and Ann Barrett. My dad is 80, and my mom is 73.
Within those discussions, we unearthed insights about my dad’s leadership role at Grace Episcopal Church’s Community Gardens (Grace’s Gardens). Dad was pivotal in the early, 2009 stages of planning the gardens. As well, he currently manages and directs the operations, with the co-direction, support and collaboration of Mother Susan and integral others in the church community.
Church members of all ages plant crops that are later harvested and donated to Harvesters, Kansas City Community Kitchen and City Union Mission. In the summer of 2010, the Garden thrived, providing more than 1,500 pounds of green beans, egg plant, tomatoes, okra, squash and green peppers. Two thousand eleven and 2012 harvests continued to provide an abundance of food for those with otherwise limited access to fresh vegetables.
This year, the planning and hands-on work is well underway. When my parents took me to the garden this past week, I saw newly tilled soil covered with protective hay, the results of Dad and his team’s focused efforts. The scene was enlivening and inspiriting! According to Dad, the first planting will occur in May. He is hopeful for a more fruitful season fed by greater amounts of rainfall this year, as last year’s drought was a bit tough on the harvest.
Below is a photo of the cross-shaped garden that Dad not only tends, but is highly involved in architecting, planning, watering, fertilizing and naturally preserving through an organic approach. Of course, this picture was taken pre-planting! I only wish I had done a better job of capturing the entire ‘cross’ in the photo.
In addition to the large cross garden, the feeding ministry expanded to include additional gardens for 21 families. Spearheaded by Dad, the team tilled the land for this expansion. While 10% of the fruits and vegetables grown in individual family gardens goes to feed hungry people in need, the remaining 90% of food is enjoyed by the families who care for their gardens. A snapshot of those ‘family garden plots’ follows:
Moreover, the urban farm journey has further expanded to include a grape arbor. Grace Church’s goal is to use the grapes to produce their own Communion wine! A photo of Dad and me at the arbor follows. I am so proud of his work and guidance in creating this robust, diverse garden community.
To further punctuate the in-depth, ongoing and organic project, is the notebook full of research Dad has collected and studied. Throughout the past 3.5+ years, he’s been visiting the library, snipping newspaper articles and hand-writing notes to equip him and his team with the right details to produce a healthy garden result. As well, he writes out crop planting strategies and layouts and tracks rain and watering, chronologically. Here is a single photo (of dozens) from his notebook:
Rag Dolls 2 Love
While my dad’s initiative in this community project is impressive, equally impressive is my mom’s involvement with the Rag Dolls 2 Love project. Twice-monthly, the women of Grace Episcopal Church commune to design, sew and stuff adorable rag dolls, aka, “Dollies” for children of need and trouble. Recipients of these colorful, sweet and soft dolls are children who live in countries ravaged by war, hospitalized children, children infected with HIV/AIDS, children affected by hurricanes and tornadoes, homeless children, hungry children, and abused and abandoned children.
Here is a picture of my mom with one of her ‘dollies’ in progress.
Mom and her friends hand-make more than 200 dolls per year; those dolls have found homes in Romania, Africa, Haiti, and locally at Children’s Mercy Hospital, Liberty Hospital and Operation Breakthrough.
The retirement journey for my parents has been chugging along for a number of years now. I find their recent-years’ encore community career invigorating and inspiring!
Whether you are on the brink of retirement from your full-time role and considering an encore career, are in career transition or you are simply looking to expand your contribution reach, consider the value of community volunteerism. Search the web using a few key words, and you’ll quickly come up with a plethora of opportunities in need of your time, service, energy and expertise. Inquire at your local church, United Way, Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Meals on Wheels, Hospital, Soup Kitchen – you get the drift. Plenty of places need you!
Your value as a continual, lifelong contributor to the local community and world at large never fades, no matter your age. The impact you can make — especially on other people — is exponential. Whether you are tilling a garden, planting new crops, sewing stitches on a dolly that will later soothe and comfort a sick child, or some other task, small or large, you will (continue to) make a real difference in the world!